March 10, 2008 An unique slice of American automotive history has been acquired by the The Henry Ford museum. Using a steel body instead of wood and incorporating a Ford Model T chassis, the 1927 Blue Bird No. 1 was a pioneering vehicle with all major school bus manufacturers moving to steel-bodies within a decade of its appearance.
Blue Bird No. 1 was the first steel-bodied school bus built by Albert Luce, Sr. in 1927. Luce was the owner of Ford dealerships in Fort Valley and Perry, Georgia when one of his customers requested a vehicle to transport workers to a cement plant. After having very limited success with a wood-bodied bus (the wood deteriorated before the customer could finish paying for the vehicle), Luce turned to using steel angles and channels, steel sheets, wood and canvas for the construction. The new bus (complete with a 1927 Ford Model T chassis) was sold to Frank Slade of Marshallville, Georgia to be used as a school bus.
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“Blue Bird embodies the ingenuity and resourcefulness of one man,” said Patricia Mooradian, president of the institution. “By taking one innovation, the Model T, and using it as the foundation for his school bus, Mr. Luce changed the paradigm of transportation for school-age children in terms of safety and reliability. Within eight years, all major school bus manufacturers were producing steel-body buses.”
Following the Depression Luce sold his Ford agencies and concentrated full-time on manufacturing school buses. His new company Blue Bird Body Company is still in operation today.
“Donating Blue Bird No. 1 to The Henry Ford at this time is meaningful to me for many reasons,” said Albert L. “Buddy” Luce, Jr., son of Albert Luce, Sr. “Last year was the 80th anniversary of Blue Bird Body Company (now Blue Bird Corporation) and I feel this is a great way to acknowledge that milestone. In addition, 2008 is the centennial of the Model T Ford. Blue Bird No. 1 will be a valuable addition to the collection of this great institution.”
Blue Bird No. 1 will go on display in Henry Ford Museum in May, 2008.